The Art of Listening

The popular stereotype that a customer service rep spends a lot of the day talking is far from the truth; a good service rep spends much more time listening than talking.

For nearly 18 years, I've worked at Canon Information Technology Services (CITS), a company where customer experience and satisfaction is the primary focus. I spend most of my time working with other business units within Canon and managing my team as opposed to interacting with consumers -- but it's just as important for me to be a careful listener.

I'm referring to active, responsive listening that allows customer service reps to tailor each interaction to the customer's personality, noting the customer's pace, not just their problem.

A significant portion of the training Canon provides for team members is designed to build their listening skills. They learn to catch subtle vocal cues such as pauses and changes in inflection that will help them understand the customer's point of view. They match the customer in speed, tone and technical language. And they know that when they get a call, it means a customer has chosen to speak to them rather than access a computer for self-service. That customer deserves to be listened to with the service member's full attention.

When customers interact with a service rep, they should know that not only has their problem has been addressed, but they are actively glad that they decided to interact with us. Solving problems is just the low bar you need to clear to be in business; having customers feel good about interacting with you is what builds brand loyalty and repeat business.

Not only is listening central to my job, but it's one of the most rewarding aspects of what I do. Every week, I spend some time listening in as our agents work with customers. I hear their passion, understanding, perseverance and commitment that they bring to their work. The customers they speak to sense that the agents are listening carefully; and I hear how well our agents have learned the skills that we train. This experience reminds me how good it feels to know that you have been listened to by someone ready to make a difference.

Team members know that I am always ready to hear their observations and suggestions, and pass relevant information on to other parts of the company. Our service agents act like a radar system; often, they are the first to spot new trends, issues, and opportunities.

Even after nearly two decades at Canon, the company's attitude toward customer service still makes me proud. I give tours of our contact center almost weekly. We walk through row after row of reps hard at work, and in each conversation, you can hear the passion. And even when you can tell that someone is dealing with a difficult conversation, you see that they never give up or lose their patience.

They're always warm. They're always listening. Day in and day out, they're doing one of the most difficult and important jobs, and they are what keep customers coming back.